By State Representative, Leon D. Young
There is something egregiously wrong with this picture: Foxconn can fill in wetlands that are regulated by the state, change the course of streams, and even build in a stream running through the property – if it wants to. If that wasn’t disconcerting enough, the plant [Foxconn] will use potentially polluting chemicals to manufacture an array of super-high-definition display panels? Yet no environmental impact statement will be required by state officials for one of the largest economic development project in U.S. history.
There is no disputing the fact that Wisconsin has played a major and highly visible part in the development of environmental protection in the twentieth century, including a key role in forming the national organizations of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society and in creating Earth Day in 1970. And, two of the most notable figures of the modern environmental movement was Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson – who were both Wisconsinites.
Leopold inspired many environmentalists to appreciate wildlife and to use the land sensibly and sensitively. Born in Iowa in 1887, Leopold developed many of his insights while spending time at his family cabin, the “shack,” near Baraboo (WI).
In the 1960s, Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson established a national reputation as a leader in environmental protection with his advocacy of Wisconsin’s pioneering Outdoor Recreation Act. The act, passed in 1961, pledged $50 million over the next decade toward environmental planning, land acquisition, and easements along state highways to insure scenic values.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, Nelson proposed a constitutional amendment stating that “Every person has the inalienable right to a decent environment.” Borrowing a tactic of the anti-Vietnam war protests, the teach-in, Nelson suggested a full day of teaching and learning about the environment in a 1969 speech in Seattle. Nelson believed that if people knew more about the environment, they would take better care of it and demand better protection. His efforts led to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
My have things changed and, unfortunately, not for the benefit of our state environment! Since taking office in 2011, Walker has moved to reduce the role of science in environmental policymaking and to silence discussion of controversial subjects, including climate change, by state employees. And he has presided over a series of controversial rollbacks in environmental protection, including relaxing laws governing iron mining and building on wetlands, in both cases to help specific companies avoid regulatory rollbacks. Among other policy changes, he has also loosened restrictions on phosphorus pollution in state waterways, tried to restrict wind energy development and proposed ending funding for a major renewable energy research program housed at the university of Wisconsin-Madison.
All in all, Walker has made good on his promise that Wisconsin would be open for business, which has included consistently siding with environmental polluters. The Foxconn fiasco is just the latest example of a governor bent on ravaging our natural resources and destroying our environmental quality of life.
It’s important to note that Foxconn’s exemption from state environmental requirements was not a request that came from the company. Rather, it came directly from Republican lawmakers, who believed the environmental reviews could slow the progress of the giant complex in Racine County.